Today: a brief appearance from Natasha during the Summer of Love–and the thick of the Vietnam War….
The Avengers #45 by Roy Thomas and Don Heck (cover by John Buscema)
Released in August 1967, in the heat of the Summer of Love, but also increasing protest against the Vietnam War, for which American troops had just reached 500,000 in country.
This issue brings the Super-Adaptoid story to a close. Natasha is out of action, in the hospital recovering from a self-sacrificing gesture that may be the kernel of the idea of her sacrifice in Avengers: Endgame. She has survived, however, and revealed to Hawkeye how her seeming villainy was part of a SHIELD mission, and that she wants to give up her Black Widow identity.
The fool Hawkeye proposes marriage. (See panels in slideshow below; I include a couple of the ads, just to ground us in what Marvel was doing outside of comic books, and for the nostalgia of these repetitive ads for things that I find it hard to imagine many people responding to.) The possibly former Black Widow appears in Hawkeye’s misty memory, leaving little to analyze about Natasha’s role in this issue.
However, Natasha’s injuries are the result of the fight with some embarrassingly stereotyped Chinese baddies, implying a Communist Southeast Asia connection. In this issue, the Super-Adaptoid waits for its moment at a Central Park event celebrating the Avengers. (I use “it” because it is revealed to be a sentient android with astonishing abilities to mimic superheroes’ abilities, but also a limited battery!)
In this confluence, the crowds are happy, ignorant of the trouble the Avengers have faced and are about to face, much as the majority of Americans still supported the war in the spring of 1967, when this issue was written. But the war itself was not going well for the Americans, and an intensification of the troop presence and tactics led only to higher casualties against an enemy that the US assumed would eventually wear down, out of batteries, like the Super-Adaptoid.
This contrast of a naive party in the park with a subtext of gloom (several characters are described as being gloomy, morose, confused about their roles and ethics, not at full strength, even hospitalized) with a seemingly insurmountable foe, reflects the strange contrast of Monterey Pop and other festivals, or just be-ins, as the Vietnam War rages.
Don Heck’s closeup faces are very impressive, and the relationships among Avengers–and random people in the crowd–that develop over just a few panels show Marvel’s DNA: comics about love affairs, work frustrations, friendships, long before superheroics became their bread and butter.